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CHARLEMAGNE SESSION REPORT (by Tom Russell)

I almost won today. 

Like Agricola, Master of Britain, Charlemagne, Master of Europe (CMOE for short) requires that players hit a certain VP threshold to progress to the next turn. CMOE is a longer game, and there are more opportunities to score VP, and so as you'd expect the VP thresholds are higher. To win Agricola, you needed 75 VP at the end of the game. By contrast, in CMOE 75 VP is a turn threshold slightly over half-way through the game; the final threshold, at the end of Turn 12, is 135 VP.

Which is doable. I know it's doable, because part of setting that VP threshold is determining how many VP a player can score over the course of each turn. I know it's doable, because the number of VP available per turn over the course of twelve turns is actually higher than what is required. I know it's doable, because there's a neat ancillary mechanism called Emergency Victory Points.

How EVP works is that at the end of each turn, you check to see if your income level has matched a certain turn-by-turn threshold. This wealth threshold is different than the end-of-turn VP threshold - you suffer no penalty for failing to meet it - but you do get rewarded by being able to sock away EVP. The first turn you meet the wealth threshold, you move the marker to the number 1 space. The second time, the number 2, the third, the number 3, and so on. When you fall short of the VP Threshold, you bump the marker down a space, earning that many Victory Points, until you've hit or exceeded the threshold. So, if you're on that "3" space, you really have 6 EVP. The more turns you manage to match the wealth threshold, the more EVP you're going to have ready for those turns when you're coming up short.

So, there's that safety net for when you aren't scoring as many VP as you need, and it's possible to score that number of VP anyway - so, again, I know this is doable. I just haven't managed to do it. Yet. 

But like I said, I almost won today. The game started promisingly enough. I took heavier casualties than I would like when I took over Lombardy, but I did manage to take it over. The act of doing it increased the Papal Approval Modifier (PAM), which gave me 1 VP. And now that I am wearing the Iron Crown of the Lombards, I'm going to be earning 1 VP per Turn; that's two, and all I need for Turn 1 is 3. I did manage to empty out two Regions - 2 more VP - and promoted two units to Level 4 - 2 more.

Usually I end the first turn with enough money to start building a Church. Like the Settlements in Agricola, building Churches in CMOE is a two-turn process that not only generates income and VP, but makes it easier to pacify a Region. While the Settlements in Agricola are "required" in the sense that it's pretty much impossible to score enough VP to win without them, they weren't "required" in that game in that if you somehow found some other way to score the VP, you could end the game with no Settlements. In CMOE, however, building Churches is required to max out the PAM. If you don't max out the PAM, you don't get to become Holy Roman Emperor, and you can't win the game. Additionally, you need a finished Church and a Marquis in a Region in order to upgrade the infrastructure (building "Bridges & Roads") and you need three upgraded Regions in order to win the game.

You're probably wondering what a Marquis does. Well, the Marquis is a piece that acts as your agent in a Region. With the exception of instigating a set-piece Battle and the placement of a new Marquis, any action you take, your Marquis can take. Placing a Marquis in a Region generates income, as well as earning you a VP each turn it is in play. Each Marquis increases your income by 2. The Churches, on the other hand, increase your income by 1 for the first Church, by 2 for the second, by 3 for the third, and by 4 for the fourth. Once you've placed both of those in a Region, and that Region is cleared of enemy Units, you can build Bridges & Roads, increasing your income by 1 more. Placing a Marquis costs 6 Coins from your Treasury, and building a Church requires two installments of 3 Coins each. (Bridges & Roads are another 3 Coins.) But each Turn, you're also going to pay 1 Coin in upkeep for each Marquis and Finished Church you have in play.

So, like I said, I usually start a Church on my first Turn. But taking into account the costs to build it and the costs to maintain it, that first Church, if completed on Turn 2, is going to result in costing me more Coins than it's making me. Now, I definitely need to build that Church, and I want to do it early enough that I can finish my second Church in a timely fashion, so as to actually make money with that one. But I was wondering if part of the problem I've been having with my income is due to building too many Churches too early in the game. Whereas a Marquis placed on Turn 1 is going to cost me 18 Coins (6 to buy it plus 12 to maintain it) and make me 24 (2 income per turn for twelve turns), for a net profit of 6 Coins. That's also going to allow me to meet the wealth threshold for the first and second turns, giving me a total of 3 EVP (1 + 2) in case I need it later.

So, I placed my second Marquis - you start the game with one in play - and between the two of them I got 2 more VP. A total of eight on the first turn! That's the number I need for the end of the second turn. Not only am I ahead, but assuming I don't lose VP due to a Byzantium chit, I'm going to fulfill one of the conditions that bumps up the PAM modifier. That'll be another VP, and one step closer to my coronation as Holy Roman Emperor.

So, end of Turn 1, things are looking pretty great. Again, I took more losses than I'd like in that first battle, but with two Marquis and the Iron Crown, I'm able to purchase four new units to make up my losses. And there are a few leaders that have popped up in the Pagan Regions.

As in Agricola, the enemy leaders in CMOE limit the actions you can take in a Region or Box. Defeating a leader in Agricola would earn you VP each turn. That's not the case here. Part of that is that the leaders are more numerous in CMOE than in Agricola. In Agricola, there were a total of 3 Leaders, with each Leader limited to a Region. In CMOE, you might have as many as fifteen Leaders on the map at a time. The weakest enemy Leaders will disappear at the end of the turn, but stronger ones, and any Leader in the Pagan Regions, will remain on the map. That's bad - you get 1 Coin less when you collect Taxes for each Leader on the map.

In Agricola, the only way to remove a Leader is to initiate a Battle. With the increased number of Leaders in CMOE, making Battle the only option is a bad idea - as in Agricola, Battles can be risky, and you don't want to be fighting Battle after Battle because that's quickly going to deplete your forces. In keeping with the medieval period, I added the option of besieging an enemy Leader. Sieges work kind of like Suppression in both Agricola and CMOE, in that you roll the die and try to exceed a certain number. In this case, you're trying to roll more than twice the Leader's Bonus (thrice if a Marquis is taking the action). What's different is that if the roll fails, you are required to keep taking this action until it succeeds or the turn ends. So, some sieges will resolve fairly quickly and easily, but others might drag on and on, draining your time and resources. (There's nothing quite like spending six actions in a row trying to dispense with a paltry "+1" leader because you keep rolling ones and twos.) The other downside to a Siege is that it only removes the Leader and one Unit, not the whole stack like a Battle does. (Well, if you roll an "8", it does eliminate the whole stack, but other than that...)

Regardless if you take care of the Leader via a Battle or via a Siege, removing the Leader increases your Treasury - that's the number of Coins you have on hand to spend, not your turn-end Income - by an amount equal to the Leader's bonus: +1 Leader means 1 Coin, +2 means 2, +3, 3. So, the popping up of enemy Leaders isn't just a nuisance (though it is), but an opportunity to increase the amount of cash you have on hand, which will make it easier to build Churches, place Marquises, and levy new troops.

So, on Turn 2, I'm making an effort to knock down enemy Leaders via Siege actions, which are generally successful. Leaders tend to be more prevalent in the two Pagan Regions (Brown and Orange) because (1) Eliminated Units from those Regions generally go into the Hostile Cup at Turn End, and (2) those Leaders don't leave the map unless you make them. The Brown Region's Leaders have bonuses of "+1" and "+2", which means a siege is relatively likely to be successful - 75% and 50% chance, respectively. The more intransigent Orange Region has a fair number of "+3" Leaders, so a siege attempt is more likely to fail than to succeed, and I'm more hesitant about using them.

So, when an Orange "+3" popped up, I figured I was in a good enough position where I could initiate a Battle. As in Agricola, the Battle system in CMOE favors the player rather heavily in some particulars, but generally you're going to end up losing a few units on average, and there's always the possibility of things going south. And boy, did they ever. I lost over half my units, just barely eking out a victory. I've fought a total of two Battles and both were absolute disasters. I'm going to have to spend a few turns incrementally building my army back up, which is a few turns I'm not spending placing Marquises, Churches, and Bridges & Roads.

Upon completion of the battle, I resolve two Hostile Reactions - as in Agricola, every action results in one or two Reactions - and I draw a Byzantium chit and a Viking. Already? I usually don't see these guys show up until a few more turns.

So, one of the big changes from Agricola is that in CMOE there are external threats beyond the rebels and tribes that pop up on the map, that generally can't be dealt with in the same way. When the Byzantine Empire chit is drawn, you potentially lose a few VP. Viking raids, on the other hand, limit your actions in Regions where they are present, and reduce the number of Coins you earn at the end of the turn just like an enemy Leader. The only way to remove them from the map is to buy them off with cash from your Treasury. The exact amount depends on how many Viking counters there are in a Region - if there are three, for example, then buying off one costs three, buying off a second costs two, and buying off the third costs one.

At the end of the second turn, I had enough money to either start building a Church, or to buy off a Viking. I decided, eh, I'll have a Coin to spare next turn, and I started the Church. Famous last words, I guess, because on turn 3 I pulled out two more Vikings. Oof.

While I was still keeping ahead of the VP threshold, I started having serious trouble with my cash-flow. Too many Vikings, too many enemy Leaders - my income level might be 12 or 15, but I'm only getting about half of that, and then most of that disappears in Church and Marquis upkeep. This doesn't leave me very many Coins with which to build up my army, which means that that's going a lot slower than I'd like.

 

This in turn means that I'm not being very aggressive with the Pagan Regions. Those stacks are getting awfully high, meaning that as soon as I eliminate a Leader via Siege, a new Leader pops up, which might be harder to remove. This means there's less of those units going back into the Hostile Cup, which means that the Hostile Cup is getting pretty thin, which means that the turns are getting pretty short. Because here's another way CMOE differs from Agricola: there's no set limit to the number of actions you can take on a turn. Instead, the turn ends when two Turn End chits have been drawn from the cup and placed in the dead pool. With more counters sitting pretty in the Pagan Regions, and less in the cup, there's not much there to keep the Turn End chits company. There are only two Turn End chits at the start of the game, but an additional chit is added on Turn 4, and another on Turn 8.

I had two turns in a row that ended after only two actions. I still hit my VP Threshold, but instead of performing well above the curve, now I was coming in only one or two points ahead. On the first action of my next turn, I drew the first Turn End Chit. I really didn't want to see the second one, and so decided it was time to pick a fight. The reason for this is that the Turn End Chits, when drawn, are placed in the dead pool, and just like in Agricola, you get to resolve the dead pool - returning chits to the cups - when you win a Battle. This includes the Turn End Chits, so one way to stop the turn from ending too soon is to initiate a Battle, putting the first chit back into the cup. I decided to attack a Leaderless stack in one of the more docile Regions, figuring it'd allow me to level up a couple of my units, and put me in a better position to attack the Pagans next turn.

You'll recall that my previous two Battles were hard-fought and borderline disasters despite the many advantages enjoyed by the player. The third Battle of the game was far, far worse-- the army I spent the last several Turns rebuilding was reduced to only two Units. I lost fourteen Units. This was insane. I really thought I was going to lose the game right there and then. Well, there was absolutely no way I could fight another Battle with just these two guys, and no way I could rebuild the army again before the end of the game. Which means that if I wanted to deal with those "+3" Pagan Leaders that were draining my cash-flow turn-after-turn, and if I wanted to generate enough money to finally buy off the last of the Vikings and get back to building up my infrastructure, I would need to besiege them.

 

But, like I said, the chances of successfully besieging a "+3" Leader are pretty slender, and the way a Siege works is that once you start, you have to keep repeating that action until either it succeeds or the turn ends. Probably unsurprisingly, the turn ended before it succeeded. On the next turn, I decided to try again, and succeeded on the second roll with an "8" - which Eliminated the entire towering stack of Saxons (staxons?). The influx of cash from those and other Pagan sieges allowed me to concentrate on projects that would build up my wealth. Suddenly there were fewer drains on my cash-flow, and by the end of Turn 9 I had three Marquises, two Churches, and one upgraded Region. One more Finished Church would max out the PAM, resulting in my coronation as Holy Roman Emperor, and two more upgrades would satisfy the other victory condition of three Regions upgraded with Bridges & Roads.

Besides, of course, the primary, unrelenting victory condition of meeting the VP Threshold. And on Turn 9, I found myself 3 VP short. But! I have my 3 EVP that I socked away on Turns 1 and 2. I wasn't able to keep up with the wealth requirements to increase it any further than that, and wasn't likely to do so now, but that's still one more turn that I'm in the game. Heck, I'm even able to meet the VP Threshold in Turn 10 without any EVP help, and now have two Bridges & Roads, two Finished Churches, and one Church that's been started.

Turn 11, I conspire to end the Campaign Phase in Rome, so that when I Finish my third Church and max out the PAM, I'm already in place to be crowned Holy Roman Emperor. I'll need to find some way on the twelfth and final Game Turn to clear out the yellow Region so that I can get my third upgrade, and because the Moors have made some in-roads into my territory, I'm going to need to fight one more Battle. But I should have enough Coins now to levy an army that might have a decent chance of surviving. As that eleventh turn winds to a close, I watch in despair as some new rebellions pop up, depriving me of my Empty Region VP.

I get a sinking feeling that I don't have enough VP to make it to Turn 12. And it turns out that I'm right; I'm three VP short. I ALMOST WON!

I had phenomenally bad luck with my Battles, and some unfortunate early chit-pulls. While there is a random factor to the game (I prefer the term probability factor), just as with Agricola, the game rewards not only sound tactics but especially good strategy. (In fact, one of the biggest mistakes new Agricola players seem to make is concentrating on what's on the map instead of what's in the cups.) I didn't leave the table feeling that I had lost due to randomness, or that my own decisions and skill didn't matter, and indeed, I was immensely proud of having made it to Turn 11, and to have come so very, very close to making it to Turn 12. I had earned it. And maybe, next time...


2 comments

  • She just hadn’t noticed them yet or she’s very polite.

    Mary Russell

  • A well trained cat. All the counters seem undistubed!

    John Theissen

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